Older reader: A Room Made of Leaves

The challenge of historical fiction – reflecting events of the past, recalling people of the past, and weaving these convincingly into a story. As a favourite genre of many people, it is also one open to critique when it strays too far from the truth perhaps?

In ‘A Room Made of Leaves’, celebrated author Kate Grenville opens up the world of Elizabeth Macarthur. She invites readers to consider a different perspective of life in early colonial Sydney – one not normally addressed by high school history classes – the female perspective.

Historically, John Macarthur is lauded as the pioneer of the wool industry, with his portrait gracing Australian currency over the years. However, his dark side as a scheming, driven personality is what drives this story. In his absence from the colony (fighting Governors and facing a court-martial in England), it seems his wife and sons were the ones driving this pioneering success.

Writing as Elizabeth Macarthur compiling her account of their personal history, Grenville challenges our acceptance of historical records and our assumptions about life for the early settlers. Early on, the reader is warned: ‘do not believe too quickly’, though we quickly become absorbed into this changed view of history.

A clever portrayal of Australian history. One to make you think, question, and consider what history really is. HIStory vs HERstory?

Slipping back in time – Inheritance

How much does your past impact your present? Being able to timeslip would certainly provide a bit of information about your heritage, wouldn’t it?

In Carol Wilkinson’s latest book, Inheritance, Nic discovers her inheritance includes the ability to ‘time slip’, which first comes about when she is left at her mother’s childhood home. Left in the care of her crotchety old grandfather – since her father travels a lot for work, and her mother died in childbirth, she has lots of time to explore the remote family property.

Family secrets intrigue Nic, and as she explores – the house, the local community and the attitudes of the locals, conflict, confrontation, and secrets arise. Left very much to her own devices, she finds much more than she expected – slipping back to times of old in the rural district.

‘Inheritance’ has the usual ponderings of whether the past can be changed if you act proactively in the past. As she time slips, Nic meets her mother and other native residents of her rural community who add to her understanding of her family’s standing in the local community. But what is the real purpose of her visits to the past?

The conflicts of European and the native peoples of Australia during western settlement play a key part in the history of the Mitchell family, which Nic discovers during her timeslips. She discovers the shocking truth of her ancestors’ participation in a massacre. In the present, she teams up at school with Thor, another teen trying to understand his own ancestral legacy.

This is a well-considered story dealing with our Australian heritage from alternate points of view – settler vs aboriginal, Nic vs her ancestors, Nic vs Thor, grandfather vs granddaughter. It presents some interesting what-ifs and asks us to consider Australia’s brutal settlement history, and how we should begin to make amends.

Would you like to timeslip to find out about your family’s past? What would you change if you could?

For other books by Carol Wilkinson see: http://carolewilkinson.com.au/books/

Freedom Ride

freedomSue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride, has previously been reviewed on this blog, so it is just to offer congratulations for its inclusion on the CBCA shortlist that this post is about. And to offer praise for a well-told historical fiction tale which is sure to make people stop and think.

In Lawson’s book, we are introduced to Robbie – a teenager in a fictional (but representative) country town in NSW. Through Robbie’s eyes, we quietly see the subtle segregation that was ‘accepted’ in Australian history. Naturally, Robbie’s youthful views are his family’s views, but these are slowly adjusted as he critically observes the practices and beliefs of different adults around him. https://crewsreviews.edublogs.org/2015/08/11/history-meets-fiction/

Since this time, Freedom Ride has already received several accolades, being included in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature, and of course, the current CBCA shortlist.

Freedom Ride was actually released to coincide with NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Indigenous achievement. It is another worthy choice which young adults will enjoy, even as it teaches us something (cringeworthy) about our past.

How powerful is it for us to learn history from fiction? Do you enjoy reading historical fiction?